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Floodwaters recede, borough takes action

Posted: September 29, 2012 - 9:47pm  |  Updated: September 29, 2012 - 9:50pm

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Friday extended a local disaster declaration and pulled $500,000 from the borough’s general fund to pay for response, recovery and assessment of the damage caused by recent heavy rainfall, flooding and damaging winds.

During an emergency meeting, the assembly unanimously approved Resolution 2012-076, which extends Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre’s Sept. 21 local disaster declaration for flooding for 60 days to allow the borough more time to respond. The assembly also approved Emergency Ordinance 2012-19-33, which appropriates $500,000 from the borough’s general fund to pay for emergency response efforts.

“The borough has only $50,000 that we keep in a fund for this type of stuff and we went through that quite some time ago,” said assembly president Gary Knopp. “This allows us to pay the bills while we are waiting for reimbursement from state and federal agencies.”

Navarre said the borough expects a federal disaster declaration for the situation that has left Seward underwater, flooded sections of the Kenai River through Cooper Landing, Kenai Keys and Big Eddy, ripped away a section of Kalifornsky Beach Road at mile 11 closing the road to through-traffic, and flooded much of the Anchor Point area.

“This is absolutely needed,” said Seward assembly member Sue McClure. “I went on a complete tour of everything yesterday and this is just the beginning for what we need for repairs.”

Navarre said he expects the borough to spend “significantly” more than the $500,000 on the damage done, but there is no total yet. Years ago, the borough shelled out $1.5 million for flood mitigation, he said.

At this point, Navarre said, the road service area is anticipating at least $650,000 in damages, and that number will likely go up as water levels drop. However, much of what the borough spends will likely be reimbursed at the state or federal level, he said.

“We will be coming back (to the assembly) as we get a better fix on what overall costs are for recovery, repairs, things like that,” he said. “It is kind of a moving target right now, but we anticipate most of it will be reimbursed as it goes through the process. But we have to expend it and pay for them and then submit the paperwork for reimbursement.”

Scott Walden, director of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, gave an update on the flooding to assembly members present and those who attended by phone — McClure, Mako Haggerty and Bill Smith. Ray Tauriainen was absent.

After the meeting, Walden said the flood incident was among the top three in recent memory — floods in 1995 and 2006 were also damaging.

The good news, Walden said, is that the Kenai River is expected to crest and start receding Sunday for the lower portions near Kenai and Soldotna. The upper river has already crested and has dropped some, he said.

According to the National Weather Service, a flood watch will remain in effect for both the Kenai River and Western Prince William Sound through 4 p.m. Sunday. At 11 a.m. Saturday, the Kenai River at Soldotna was 12.13 feet, 14.86 feet below Skilak, and 14.24 feet at Cooper Landing; all of those levels are above flood stages, according to the weather service.

Boating on the Kenai River from Skilak Lake downstream to the confluence of the Upper Killey River reopened on Thursday, but the rest of the river remained closed due to flooding.

“Things are actually looking a bit better right now,” Walden said. “Seward is improving weather-wise, so it’ll give us an opportunity to gain some ground on all of these areas from Anchor Point all the way to Seward, hopefully.”

Other than the damage on Kalifornsky Beach Road, Walden said the central Peninsula’s roads are in decent shape.

“In some of the pictures we showed of Big Eddy ... those haven’t suffered significant damage other than just having water on them right now,” he said. “We are keeping an eye on some at the end of Funny River Road that are borough roads. Primarily the damage that we are seeing is in Seward and down to the Anchor Point area and road service has been responding both directions to make sure they stay passable if they can.”

Walden said the Kenai Lake bridge at Cooper Landing was never in jeopardy from high water levels. The Department of Transportation is keeping an eye on its integrity during flooding, he said.

“They were evaluating those structures along the length of the Peninsula all the way over to Seward,” he said.

The borough is continuing to monitor a glacial lake behind Skilak Lake. The lake, called Pothole Lake, is held in place by an ice dam and releases every few years, Walden said. The borough isn’t sure of the lake’s level because bad weather has prohibited flyovers. The dam broke last year in early October and increased water levels by a foot or more in places.

Walden said the borough’s interest in the lake is only precautionary.

“The reason that we are keeping track of it now is that it has been a warm and rainy fall, earlier than usual, so nothing has had a chance to freeze up solid like it normally would,” he said. “In the interest of being aware of what is going on and being aware of the safety factor, we are trying to get over flights to see what the level of the water is right now.”

The Department of Environmental Conservation is warning residents with wells on their property to boil water used for drinking, brushing teeth, making ice, washing dishes and food preparation for two minutes before use. Homeowners should continue doing so until their wells are no longer impacted by floodwater, the well and water system disinfected with chlorine, flushed and tested for safety.

Visit www.flood.alaska.gov for step-by-step directions or contact the local DEC Soldotna office at 262-3420.

The Borough Office of Emergency Management is also encouraging homeowners to report flood damage to their properties on forms found at http://www2.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency/.

Officials from the borough, state and federal levels will be in affected communities to assess damage. Property owners are not required to be present when the damage assessment team arrives on-site, the borough reported.

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.

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